Future of Fox on the line over new claims about aide
BRITISH Defence Secretary Liam Fox's ministerial future was thrown into serious doubt last night after an official report uncovered new evidence of his personal and official links to his self-styled adviser and defence consultant, Adam Werritty.
Initial findings of a civil service inquiry into his professional dealings with Mr Werritty revealed that:
•Officials in Mr Fox's private office were ordered to provide details of his diary to Mr Werritty on several occasions after he became Secretary of State.
•Mr Werritty was present with Mr Fox on 18 separate foreign trips since he took office in May last year. These included official visits, conferences, mini-breaks and family holidays.
•Mr Werritty met Mr Fox on an additional 22 occasions at the Ministry of Defence's headquarters in London -- many times without officials present.
•On one occasion Mr Werritty attended a meeting with the new British ambassador to Israel and on another he organised a meeting at Ministry of Defence headquarters with a Sri Lankan visitor.
It also emerged that Mr Fox instructed officials in his private office to write a briefing note on a technology which had been demonstrated to him at a controversial meeting in Dubai with a defence contractor organised by Mr Werritty.
That meeting had initially been facilitated by a lobbying firm paid thousands of pounds by the manufacturers of the technology. At the meeting, which was organised by Mr Werritty, no officials were present and no one in the Ministry of Defence knew it was taking place.
Last night, in a sign of the seriousness of the new allegations, Downing Street announced a much wider investigation into Mr Werritty's activities to be overseen by the Cabinet Secretary Gus O'Donnell.
Last night, officials suggested that Ursula Brennan, the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Defence, would be interviewing Mr Werritty to establish whether he profited from his close links with Mr Fox.
Downing Street conceded last night that he still had questions to answer.
A spokesman said: "It is clear that serious mistakes were made in allowing the distinction between professional responsibilities and personal loyalties to be blurred -- and this has clearly raised concerns about impropriety and potential conflicts of interest."
Officials say that Ms Brennan and her team were particularly concerned that Mr Fox had asked his private office to provide details of his diary to Mr Werritty on what appeared to be a regular basis in addition to providing the information, on other occasions, himself.
A source said: "This was against ministerial practice and also breached security guidelines."
In a contrite statement to the House of Commons, Mr Fox apologised for not being more transparent in his dealing with Mr Werritty but insisted at no stage was the relationship improper.